11-5-03 - 1


In all traditional media, you know where you are in the experience. With books, you can feel the number of pages before and after the current, with television, you know the duration and the current time, with movies you have the convention of the standard duration. This is a major part of our experience; if a mystery starts wrapping up and you know it's only half-way done, you know there's a big twist yet to come. If on the other hand you're near the end of a book and a mystery is wrapping up, you know it's the real wrap-up, and you commit yourself to it emotionally. Now, if someone suddenly hands you another book and says "surprise, there's a second volume!" you feel betrayed, bothered that the end was held in front of you and didn't come. This happens with movies that are longer than the conventional hour and a half. When the movie keeps giving false wrap-ups and then just keeps going, we feel emotionally strung along, and we just want it to be over already. With modern electronic media, we have the occasion now to provide variable length experiences and not let the consumer know where they are or how long the experience is. This is generally a bad thing, it's disorienting to the consumer. It can sometimes be used to artful purpose to convey a sense of being lost in the story, but almost always it's done without being aware of how important this idea of knowing your position in the experience is.

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